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Delaney's history carries on under new ownership

Kevin and Deb Lempola, owners of Delaney's Sports Center for the last 25 years, stand below the fish that hung outside the original store before being relocated. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)1 / 2
Darrel and Florence Delaney are shown her in front of the Highway 34 location in this undated Enterprise photograph.2 / 2

Longtime owners of Delaney's Sports Center in Park Rapids, Kevin and Deb Lempola have sold their family-owned and operated business to Will Wicks and Mike Lien.

Wicks and Lien approached the Lempolas over a year ago expressing interest in buying the business if they ever intended to sell it.

"We weren't looking to sell," Kevin said. "These guys were looking to get into business and after a year or so, it worked out."

Deb added that Wicks and Lien are local and they'll keep the store as Delaney's.

"That meant a lot to me after that many years. I wanted to see it stay whole rather than just selling the merchandise and then sell the building," she said. "And these are two young families. It will stay privately owned and operated."

The Lempolas bought the business from Deb's parents, Lyle and Barb Englert, on April Fool's Day 25 years ago.

"Just in our family alone it's been almost 50 years," Deb said regarding the store's long history.

The Englerts acquired the business from Darrel and Florence Delaney in 1975 with their partners at the time, Bud and Greta Hendricks. A few years later, the Englerts bought them out due to Bud's health problems.

The Delaneys started the family business in 1954. The original building was located on Highway 34, directly across from where Holiday Station is now.

According to the Delaneys' granddaughter, Sherri Tatro, half of the structure was the shop and the other half was an apartment with a living area. The building had a dirt floor in the basement.

"There were night crawler beds down there," Tatro said. "I remember going down there for night crawlers."

The original Delaney's Sports Center had a walk-in freezer. Darrel ran the business from the ground up. He made blocks of ice for his regular ice delivery route to local resorts located north of Park Rapids.

"The trailer was taken all the way to Itasca State Park and Lake George," longtime employee Randy Anderson said. "I took it a few times and it was like dragging a bucking bronco. That trailer was so heavy with ice."

Darrel also trapped his own minnows and leeches, putting in way too many hours, according to Anderson.

Tatro reminisced about her job as a kid, sorting and boxing leeches, a job in which her grandmother wouldn't endure without rubber gloves.

Darrel Delaney was known as the "Leech Man" in Park Rapids, trapping and selling over 200,000 leeches in a year.

Deb said that her own grandkids have helped sort leeches over the years as well; it's a family tradition.

"My granddaughter came in the other day and told Mike and Will that she gets possession of the five gallons of leeches when they come in. She gets to dig through them first," she said.

The store has seen several transitions throughout the years. Under the ownership of the Delaneys, the store sold bait and ice and provided fish cleaning. When the Englerts took over ownership, Anderson, their first employee, convinced them to add tackle to their list of merchandise.

According to Anderson, in the 1970s Delaney's was the first retailer to sell Ranger boats in the Park Rapids area.

The Lempolas expanded the store even more by not only selling bait and tackle but archery and ammo, along with a vast majority of other merchandise.

The state widened Highway 34 and in 2005 and Delaney's relocated to the current location.

The Englerts bought Delaney's in May 1975, around the fishing opener; Darrel stayed on as an employee.

Anderson said that he used to arrive at 5:30 a.m. to be ready to open the store by 6 a.m. before the early morning rush.

The Lempolas and Anderson reminisced about all the fun customers and characters that have walked through the doors over the years.

"That's the part I'm going to miss the most," Deb said.

"The majority of the people that come in our door are all happy. They come through the door, they've got time off and they're going fishing," Kevin added. "It's a fun industry to be in. It's been fun."